What causes dry eyes all of a sudden

Dry eyes, a condition medically known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca or simply dry eye syndrome, occurs when the eyes do not produce enough tears or when the tears evaporate too quickly. This leads to inflammation and irritation of the ocular surface. While chronic dry eyes can be a persistent issue, many individuals experience sudden onset dry eyes, which can be particularly distressing. Understanding the causes of this sudden condition is crucial for effective treatment and prevention. This article explores various factors that can lead to the sudden onset of dry eyes.

What causes dry eyes all of a sudden


Environmental Factors

One of the most common causes of sudden dry eyes is a change in the environment. Several environmental factors can contribute to reduced tear production or increased tear evaporation:

  1. Dry Air: Air that is particularly dry, either due to seasonal changes, indoor heating, or air conditioning, can lead to increased tear evaporation. This is especially common during winter months when indoor heating systems are frequently used.
  2. Wind and Sun Exposure: Spending time outdoors on a windy day or under direct sunlight can also cause tears to evaporate more quickly. Wind and UV rays from the sun can dry out the eyes, leading to discomfort.
  3. Pollution: Airborne pollutants, such as smoke, dust, and chemicals, can irritate the eyes and cause tears to evaporate more rapidly. This is a common issue in urban areas with high levels of air pollution.

Lifestyle and Behavioral Factors

Certain lifestyle and behavioral factors can significantly impact eye health, leading to sudden dry eyes:

  1. Prolonged Screen Time: Staring at computer screens, smartphones, or televisions for extended periods can reduce the blink rate. Blinking is essential for spreading tears across the surface of the eye. Reduced blinking leads to dry spots on the cornea, resulting in dry eyes.
  2. Contact Lens Use: Contact lenses can disrupt the natural tear film on the surface of the eyes, especially if worn for extended periods or not cared for properly. This can cause dryness and discomfort.
  3. Inadequate Hydration: Dehydration can reduce tear production. Not drinking enough water throughout the day can lead to dry eyes.
  4. Poor Diet: A diet lacking in essential fatty acids, particularly omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, can contribute to dry eye syndrome. Omega-3s are important for maintaining the health of the tear film.

Medical Conditions and Medications

Various medical conditions and medications can also lead to the sudden onset of dry eyes:

  1. Allergies: Allergic reactions can cause inflammation of the eyes, leading to increased tear evaporation and dry eyes. Common allergens include pollen, dust mites, and pet dander.
  2. Autoimmune Disorders: Conditions such as Sjögren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus can affect tear glands and reduce tear production, leading to dry eyes.
  3. Hormonal Changes: Hormonal changes, particularly in women, can affect tear production. This can occur during pregnancy, menopause, or due to the use of birth control pills.
  4. Medications: Certain medications can cause dry eyes as a side effect. These include antihistamines, decongestants, antidepressants, blood pressure medications, and diuretics. If you notice dry eyes after starting a new medication, it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider.
  5. Eye Surgery: Procedures such as LASIK or cataract surgery can temporarily disrupt tear production and lead to dry eyes. This is usually a short-term issue that resolves with appropriate post-operative care.


As we age, our body undergoes various changes, including reduced tear production. The Meibomian glands, responsible for producing the oily layer of tears, can become less effective over time. This is why older adults are more prone to dry eyes. While aging itself is a gradual process, the sudden onset of dry eyes in older adults can be exacerbated by other factors like environmental changes or new medications.

Psychological Factors

Stress and anxiety can have a surprising impact on eye health. High stress levels can lead to changes in the body’s hormonal balance, which can affect tear production. Additionally, stress can cause individuals to blink less frequently, similar to prolonged screen time, leading to dry eyes.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Identifying the cause of sudden dry eyes is essential for effective treatment. A comprehensive eye exam by an ophthalmologist or optometrist can help diagnose the condition. Tests may include:

  1. Tear Film Break-Up Time: This test measures how quickly tears evaporate from the eye’s surface.
  2. Schirmer Test: This test measures tear production by placing a small strip of paper under the lower eyelid to absorb tears.
  3. Staining Tests: Dyes such as fluorescein or lissamine green can be used to highlight areas of damage on the eye’s surface caused by dryness.

Treatment Options

Treatment for sudden dry eyes depends on the underlying cause. Common treatments include:

  1. Artificial Tears: Over-the-counter lubricating eye drops can provide immediate relief by supplementing natural tears. Preservative-free options are recommended for frequent use.
  2. Environmental Adjustments: Using a humidifier to add moisture to the air, wearing sunglasses to protect against wind and sun, and avoiding smoke and other pollutants can help reduce symptoms.
  3. Lifestyle Changes: Reducing screen time, taking regular breaks to blink fully, staying hydrated, and improving dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids can all contribute to healthier eyes.
  4. Medication Adjustments: If medications are causing dry eyes, a healthcare provider may adjust the dosage or switch to an alternative medication.
  5. Prescription Treatments: In more severe cases, prescription medications such as cyclosporine (Restasis) or lifitegrast (Xiidra) may be recommended to reduce inflammation and increase tear production.
  6. Punctal Plugs: These are small devices inserted into the tear ducts to block drainage and help retain moisture on the eye’s surface.
  7. Warm Compresses and Eyelid Hygiene: Regularly applying warm compresses to the eyes and practicing good eyelid hygiene can help treat meibomian gland dysfunction, a common cause of dry eyes.


The sudden onset of dry eyes can be caused by a variety of factors, ranging from environmental and lifestyle changes to medical conditions and medications. Understanding these causes is key to finding effective treatment and relief. If you experience sudden dry eyes, it’s important to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause and receive appropriate treatment. With the right care and lifestyle adjustments, most individuals can manage dry eye symptoms and maintain healthy, comfortable eyes.